Despite the importance of intellectual property, and its protection and efficient management by the corporate world (and all IP owners), mass media seems to forget about it, or at least misunderstand it. The blame should probably not lie on the mass media, however. Instead, it is probably the fault of IP professionals, including myself, who do not educate these people on the critical effect proper protection and management of IP has on business success.
In the past week, the topic of IP in the media, or its lack therein, has been the hot subject of the IP blog circle. It started with a piece over at the respected IP Finance blog, in which the author criticized a recent article in the Economist, titled “The Tata Nano: The New People’s Car”. Writes IP Finance:
After being told, in previous paragraphs, that the car is small but “surprisingly spacious”; that its zero to 60 mph takes 30 seconds, but that it is a good drive and fuel efficient; that the placement of the engine in the rear is a marvel of design; that it has some flaws (what car does not?), and that is the bane of environmentalists, we are now told that Tata has filed over 30 patent applications. To what end?
Did Tata do this to send a signal to the market that the car represents a technological breakthrough and to keep competitors on edge (at least until the applications are published); are the inventions covered by the applications crucial to the success of the car; if so, do we know what makes the inventions so crucial; and what happens to the Tata Nano project if the applications, in while or in part, are not granted? Or is this simply a bit of public relations, under the theory that it always look good to claim that your new product is the subject of multiple patent applications, irrespective of their genuine value to the project? The article does not say.
Truth be told, we work very hard at trying to get our management students to treat IP as one component of the management mix, sometimes more crucial, sometimes less crucial to the success of the particular company and its activities. This means that we try not to be either a true believer or mere cheerleader for IP rights. In doing so, we hope that the sources of media information and manner of media presentation upon which managers may rely in fashioning their view of the business world will assist them in integrating IP within their larger managerial concerns. From the point of view, I wish that The Economist had done a bit better in connection with its treatment of patent filings and the Tata Nano.
The piece received comments from other respected blogs, including Joff Wild’s IAM blog. Wild took a different tone, defending journalists, and laying the blame on IP professionals for not making the critical information accessible. I must agree with this comment, as he writes:
Now I can understand Wilkof’s frustrations, but as a journalist I feel I must defend my co-professionals. If journalists do not get IP and report it badly - or not in the way IP professionals would like (sometimes the two are not the same) - I would argue that it is because those inside IP do not make it accessible enough. If IP professionals are not able to make IP relevant to senior management or to journalists or to anyone else, it is no good blaming anyone but themselves. That may sound harsh, but there you go. To get journalists to take IP seriously, you need to explain it to them in a way that they will understand, find interesting and relevant to their readerships.
Some extra commentary and further reading on the issue can be found at IP BIZ, another respected IP blog that joined the topic discussion via the internet blogosphere.
The problem is two-fold. Journalists have a duty to research and understand the topics they cover. IP professionals have a duty to make sure this knowledge is accessible. While (most) IP professionals are not journalists, nor authors, we must apprise those that are of the undeniable entanglement of IP and business. We do this by putting important IP matters and discussion materials in front of those that would not normally read about them. Publish an article about efficient IP management in the daily general newspaper, and not in the specialist subscription journal. Speak on important IP monetization issues to a local business agency, and not to the IP section of the local bar association. And so on . . .